How Mark Lynas riled the green movement

“They believe in what they’re doing, but these people are nuts,” says Lynas. “And they’re doing real harm by spreading fear.”

What we know from Chernobyl is that the psychological impacts of fear of radiation are worse — in terms of health outcomes — than the actual damage of the radiation itself. We need to learn the lessons of this and that nothing is without consequences, nuclear scare-mongering included

Mark Lynas, author of  The God Species, was recently interviewed by Yale Environment 360 contributor Keith Kloor. Don’t miss this interview:

(…) Lynas talked about his change of heart, his embrace of genetically modified crops as a key solution to possible food shortages, and his disgust at seeing some environmentalists largely ignore the devastation from the recent Japanese tsunami while over-hyping the dangers of radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.

(…) Yale Environment 360: The main thesis of your new book is that humans have to take an active role in managing the planet if we want to keep it from being “irreparably damaged.” But much of what you prescribe, such as wider deployment of nuclear power and genetically engineered agriculture, is anathema to many greens. This also flies in the face of your own history as an environmental activist, in which you were anti-nuclear and anti-GMO until just a few years ago. What’s caused you to do an about-face?

Mark Lynas: Well, life is nothing if not a learning process. As you get older you tend to realize just how complicated the world is and how simplistic solutions don’t really work … There was no “Road to Damascus” conversion, where there’s a sudden blinding flash and you go, “Oh, my God, I’ve got this wrong.” There are processes of gradually opening one’s mind and beginning to take seriously alternative viewpoints, and then looking more closely at the weight of the evidence. It was a few years ago now that I first started reassessing the nuclear thing. But I didn’t want to go public then. I knew that would be the end of my reputation as an environmentalist, and to some extent, it has been.

e360: Really?

Lynas: I mean, I’ve lost friends over this. And I’ve made some new ones. It’s an issue that divides almost like no other.

6 thoughts on “How Mark Lynas riled the green movement

  1. I’ve about given up on trying to talk to the virulent anti-nuclear people. I just canceled my subscription to because few people there pay any attention to the fact that technology will not permit wind and solar to provide adequately for the power requirements of modern prosperous countries.

    Several times I’ve pointed out that there have been no studies that indicate that renewable sources of energy will do the job. No one has ever responded by citing such studies. Apparently we are asked to take it on faith that renewables will do the job and, in the absence of data showing that renewables will do the job, we are being asked to spend untold billions of dollars on renewables. The usual procedure before spending huge amounts of money is to do a study first to determine whether it will provide an adequate return on the investment, but in the case of renewables, we are asked to accept its practicality on faith alone. I see that as irrational.

  2. I see that as irrational

    Indeed. We can speculate that the behavior you experienced is a kind of signaling, that says “I am a good person because I say that I agree with people who buy the Prius”. Being recognized as a member of the “green” social group is the goal, not thinking through the policy options.

    We liked Megan McArdle’s recent essay Why We Should Act to Stop Global Warming—and Why We Won’t because she explained so concisely why few people can make the personal investment to learn and understand the climate and energy policy tradeoffs.

  3. “…she explained so concisely why few people can make the personal investment to learn and understand the climate and energy policy tradeoffs.”

    Good point.

    Until about three years ago, when I saw a wind farm, I’d think to myself, “How nice! We are generating clean energy.” But then, on a long road trip, I noticed that many wind generators were not even turning, and I got to wondering whether the fact that renewable sources are not always generating power had been taken into adequate consideration. Upon doing some research, which was extremely time-consuming, I could find no evidence that the intermittentancy problem had been adequately considered. Unfortunately, most people have not taken the time to do an adequate analysis; they simply assume that renewable sources will work because that’s what they’ve been told.

    If the necessary information to understand energy sources were conveniently available, probably more people would study it. But where are they going to get the information? The mass media will not provide it since its purpose is not to provide information, but rather, to maximize revenue and maximizing revenue is not achieved by providing information, but rather, by entertaining. So, the only current alternative is to spend countless hours digging up information from the Internet and libraries.

    We badly need better ways to educate the public, not only on energy issues, but on many other issues as well.

  4. Agreed. The good news is there are efficient, accurate learning resources emerging now. From a little “where to read” I just posted:

    If you can invest only an hour and like your education in movie format, then check out this post on Energy policy: Near Zero.

    If you can invest three hours in some very efficient reading check out this post on Stanford University nuclear physicist and Nobel laureate Burton Richter’s 2010 book: Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century.

  5. I’ve already read Beyond Smoke and Mirrors:… and posted a comment thereon. I’ve also watched the Thorium Remix 2011 DVD and may check out Energy policy: Near Zero. However, I prefer to read material since it is much faster, especially when material in movie format includes cutsy time consuming introductions.

    Unfortunately, the existing material, while helpful, will do little good unless the public is aware of it. Finding it can be very time-consuming.

  6. Sorry – I didn’t intend those two resources for your eyes. Your comments reminded me to try to make it easy for interested readers to connect to some quality information.

    See what you think of Near Zero as a learning/teaching aid – pass it on if you think it is useful.

    Unfortunately, the existing material, while helpful, will do little good unless the public is aware of it. Finding it can be very time-consuming.

    I don’t know how to solve that problem – when some two-thirds of the anglosphere gets their “news” from television. Still, as an optimist, I take some encouragement from the slow growth of Internet information consumption.

    When the opportunity presents we try to lead people to more efficient ways to learn, mainly Internet-based techniques.

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